Bullying is a topic of concern to families across the US. Multiple reasons exist for the problem, including, jealousy, racism, and just plain aggressive behavior. Two common reasons for bullying have been reported online on December 24 in the journal Pediatrics. Both reasons can be amenable to intervention. Not surprisingly, overweight children are at increased risk of bullying; however, the other reason is surprising: food allergies.
In the food allergy study, researchers affiliated with Mount Sinai Medical Center (New York, New York), Fordham University (New York, New York) and Wayne Valley High School (Wayne, New Jersey) theorized that the social vulnerability that is associated with food allergy might predispose these children to bullying and harassment. Their study attempted to quantify the extent, methods, and correlates of bullying in a cohort of food-allergic children.
During allergy clinic visits, patient and parent (83.6% mothers) pairs were consecutively recruited to independently answer questionnaires. Bullying due to food allergy or for any cause, quality of life, and distress in both the child and parent were evaluated via questionnaires. The investigators found that of 251 families who completed the surveys, 45.4% of the children and 36.3% of their parents reported that the child had been bullied or harassed for any reason. Furthermore, 31.5% of the children and 24.7% of the parents noted that the bullying was specifically due to food allergy. The bullying, which was primarily done by classmates, often included threats with foods. Bullying was significantly associated with decreased quality of life and increased distress in parents and children, independent of the reported severity of the allergy. A greater frequency of bullying was related to a poorer quality of life. In only about half (52.1%) of the bullying incidents, were the parents aware of the child-reported bullying. The investigators found that parental knowledge of bullying was associated with better quality of life and less distress in the bullied children.
The study authors found that bullying is common in food-allergic children. It is associated with lower quality of life and distress in children and their parents. Half of the bullying cases were unknown by parents. They wrote: “When parents are aware of the bullying, the child’s quality of life is better. It is important to proactively identify and address cases in this population.”
The study investigating the relationship between bullying and excess weight was conducted by researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut). They noted that only a handful of studies have comprehensively examined weight-based victimization in youth, despite its serious consequences for their psychosocial and physical health. They explained that these children may be highly vulnerable to weight-based victimization and its negative consequences; therefore, their current study provided a comprehensive assessment of this type of bullying in a weight loss treatment–seeking sample.
The study group comprised 361 adolescents aged 14–18 years who were enrolled in two national weight loss camps. An in-depth assessment of weight-based violence was conducted by using an online survey in which the participants indicated the duration, typical locations, frequent perpetrators, and forms of weight-based bullying they had experienced.
The researchers noted that their results indicated that 64% of the study participants reported weight-based victimization, and the risk of bullying increased with body weight. Most participants reported that they had endured bullying for one year (78%), and 36% were teased/bullied for five years. Peers (92%) and friends (70%) were the most commonly reported perpetrators, followed by adult perpetrators, including physical education teachers/sport coaches (42%), parents (37%), and teachers (27%). Weight-based bullying was most frequently reported in the form of verbal teasing (75–88%), relational victimization (74–82%), cyber-bullying (59–61%), and physical aggression (33–61%). In addition, the bullying was commonly experienced in multiple locations at school.
The authors concluded that weight-based victimization is a prevalent experience for weight loss treatment–seeking youth, even when they are no longer overweight. They wrote: “Given the frequent reports of [weight-based victimization] from adult perpetrators in addition to peers, treatment providers and school personnel can play an important role in identifying and supporting youth who may be at risk for pervasive teasing and bullying.
Take home message:
Obviously, overweight children are at risk for bullying. However, one of the studies reported that children with food allergies are subjected to bullying and added that in half the incidents, parents were unaware. In view of the current child obesity epidemic in the US, bullying based on this condition is a—pardon the pun—growing problem. Awareness of the bullying is necessary for parents to become proactive in combatting the problem. Thus, parents of children with food allergies should be cognizant of the problem. Discussing the situation with school officials can be beneficial. Many books are available on the topic. One example is “Bullying Prevention and Intervention: Realistic Strategies for Schools (Intervention in the Schools Series; S. M. Swearer, PhD; D.L. Espelage PhD; and S.A. Napolitano PhD)